Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one of those movies that will be unbearably inspirational and patriotic. But thanks to director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express), this is a gritty, honest drama that never dips into sentimentality. It's also a strikingly involving story about a young man who is forced to confront things about himself far beyond his injuries. And that makes it genuinely inspirational.
The man at the centre is Jeff Bauman (Jake Gylenhaal), a happy-go-lucky lad who is cheering his on-again/off-again girlfriend Erin (Tatiana Maslany) at the marathon's finish line. Jeff loses both legs in the explosion, returning home to live with his boozy mother (Miranda Richardson) as he tries to put his life back together. But he feels uneasy that the entire city is celebrating him as a hero. So while his working-class family enjoys the celebrity, Jeff goes quiet. Erin tries to get him to take a more proactive approach to his physiotherapy and get on with his life, but Jeff instead slips back into his old habit of drinking too much with his buddies (Richard Jane Jr. and Nate Richman). And this leaves him without much desire to work toward a full recovery.
Against expectations, the filmmakers refuse to sensationalise either the bombing or Jeff's injuries, instead taking a matter-of-fact approach that feels edgy and authentic. Gyllenhaal plays Jeff as a likeable slacker who knows he's a loser, so can't cope with his status as a symbol of hope. This gives his internal journey some real resonance, and Gyllenhaal gives Jeff a remarkable intensity that's sympathetic even when he's being a jerk. Maslany is also skilfully understated in her pivotal role, while Richardson is the standout as an uneducated woman who makes some very bad decisions but is fiercely protective of her son.
Continue reading: Stronger Review
This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story and characters in a way that feels bracingly true to life. It's also a rare movie that's infused with strong emotions right from the start, but never dips into any kind of sentimentality. Indeed, director-cowriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) holds his nerve as he takes the audience into some remarkably moving situations. And most importantly, it's the kind of film that encourages us to make the world a kinder place.
At the centre of the story is 10-year-old Auggie (Room's Jacob Tremblay), who has been homeschooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) and is now entering a mainstream school. Everyone in the family is nervous about this, including his dad (Owen Wilson) and big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), because Auggie has a facial deformity that makes him a target for small-minded bullies. But his headmaster (Mandy Patinkin) is determined to help smooth the way, introducing him to the sensitive Jack (Suburbicon's Noah Jupe) and the popular boy Julian (Bryce Gheisar). While Jack becomes a friend, Julian's vicious taunts make Auggie's life difficult. Meanwhile, Via is left on her own to face the fact that her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell) seems to be drifting away.
The story is told from a variety of perspectives, which adds surprising insight as the film explores how Auggie's condition affects him and the people around him. The details are so finely observed that the movie often feels almost journalistic in its approach, which makes it that much more involving.
Continue reading: Wonder Review
This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to give the story a photo-realistic sheen. The addition of more songs makes it feel much more like a big movie musical. And the use of real actors adds quite a lot of detail and subtext in the character interaction. But basically, this is still the same romantic fairy tale: lovely to look as it makes the audience swoon and sigh.
It's set in a French village, where Belle (Emma Watson) is looked at with suspicion by her neighbours for her empowered-female ways, reading books, expressing her opinions and running the farm where she lives with her single dad Maurice (Kevin Kline). It's no wonder that the vain soldier Gaston (Luke Evans) pursues her, since she's the only girl who isn't chasing him. Then one day Maurice and Belle have a fateful encounter with a castle hidden in a deep woods under a curse. Imprisoned by its beastly master (Dan Stevens), Belle befriends the staff, who have been transformed into household objects like a lampstand (Ewan McGregor), clock (Ian McKellen), teapot (Emma Thompson), harpsichord (Stanley Tucci) and feather duster (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). All of them conspire to help Belle fall in love with the Beast, which would break the spell.
Director Bill Condon (who made Dreamgirls and the final Twilight movies) makes the most of the live-action cast, allowing them to stir all kinds of undercurrents into their roles, which adds weight and interest to the rather predictable storyline. The film still looks largely animated thanks to an extensive use of digital backgrounds and characters, but the actors add an earthy tone that breaks the surface, bringing in some more textured emotions and sharper humour. The whole cast is excellent, with particular scene-stealing energy coming from Evans and Josh Gad (as his super-faithful sidekick LeFou), who are both funny and villainous at the same time. And Kline is also a standout for a surprisingly thoughtful performance.
Continue reading: Beauty And The Beast Review
By Rich Cline
Where the 2011 reboot felt effortless in the way it recaptured that warmly anarchic Muppets humour, this sequel feels like it's working every step of the way. Yes, it's riotously silly and occasionally hilarious, but there are large chunks of the movie that just aren't funny at all, mainly because there's so much emphasis on the tangled web of a plot that the characters get lost in the shuffle.
It starts just as the last movie ended: the Muppets decide to do a sequel based on an idea from interloper Dominic (Ricky Gervais) to take their show on a world tour. But Dominic is actually in league with super-villain frog Constantine (Matt Vogel), who has just escaped from a gulag. So when the Muppet Show lands in Berlin, he orchestrates a swap: Constantine takes Kermit's place in the show, while Kermit (Steve Whitmire) is sent to Siberia under the watchful eye of guard Nadya (Tina Fey). Meanwhile, Interpol agent Jean-Pierre (Burrell) and CIA operative Sam Eagle (Eric Jacobson) are investigating a series of robberies mysteriously linked to Muppet performances in Berlin, Madrid and Dublin.
All of this builds to a head in London, where Constantine is staging an elaborate wedding to Miss Piggy (Jacobson) to distract from his real plan to steal the Crown Jewels. But this plot-strand feels predictable and limp compared to much more interesting character interaction. For example, scenes between Kermit and Fey are a lot more fun as they plan a musical revue with the inmates (and get Trejo and Liotta sing and dance!). And the escalating banter between Sam Eagle and Burrell is hilarious even as it indulges in cheap Euro-jokes.
Continue reading: Muppets Most Wanted Review
By Rich Cline
The writers of The Hangover stick with the same formula for this university-aged romp about three young guys who get far too drunk for their own good. It even opens on the morning after (they're walking naked across campus) before cycling back to piece together what actually happened. But all of the humour is as cheap as it can be, merely laughing at stupid behaviour rather than mining much genuine comedy out of the situation. At least the actors find some chemistry along the way.
Our three chuckleheads are party-boy Miller (Teller), smart-guy Casey (Astin) and their pal Jeff Chang (Chon), who is turning 21 at midnight. This prompts Miller and Casey to propose a night of drunkenness to celebrate his legal drinking age in style. But Jeff has his med school interview in the morning, so they have to sneak past his terrifying dad (Chau) to have just one drink together. Unsurprisingly, this drink turns into an epic bar crawl, culminating in Jeff's unconsciousness. And since Miller and Casey can't remember where he lives, they go on a ludicrously convoluted quest to find his address. This involves enraging a sorority house, releasing the university's mascot buffalo and tormenting the tough-talking boyfriend (Keltz) of a cheerleader (Wright) who catches Casey's eye.
Obviously, there's one massive problem with this whole premise: a cold shower and a cup of coffee would revive Jeff pretty easily. But then, Miller and Casey wouldn't need to go through, say, eight levels of frat-house drinking games to find a guy who might know Jeff's address. At least all of the antics give Teller and Astin a chance to deepen their characters a bit, mainly in the way they interact with each other as childhood pals who have taken unexpected turns along the way. Chon doesn't have quite as much to do with Jeff. Sure, he's been pushed into studying medicine by his fearsome dad, but he spends the entire movie in a drunken stupor.
Continue reading: 21 And Over Review
By Rich Cline
Using their long absence from the screen as a premise, this film astutely taps into the nostalgia former fans still feel for these anarchic, loveable characters while winning over new followers. And even though it's very silly, it's still hugely enjoyable.
In Smalltown America, Walter (Linz) has always felt different from his brother Gary (Segel). He has longed to meet the Muppets, his childhood heroes, and gets the chance when Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Adams) take him on a trip Los Angeles. But the Muppet Theatre is in ruin, and an evil tycoon (Cooper) is planning to tear it down and drill for oil. After meeting Kermit (Whitmire), Walter, Mary and Gary hatch a plan to save the theatre. But most of the Muppets have moved on with their lives.
Continue reading: The Muppets Review
By Rich Cline
Director Russell significantly ups his game with this visceral drama based on the true story of two boxing brothers, one on his way up and one going down fast. But it's the emotional resonance of the tale that makes it so gripping.
In small-town 1993 Massachusetts, Dickie (Bale) is a crack addict who lives in his own glorious past as a boxer who once knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. But his erratic life is jeopardising the growing career of his half-brother Micky (Wahlberg), who he's training and managing with their tough-as-nails mother (Leo). Micky knows that in order to further his career, he'll need to make a difficult break from his messy family. Then he meets Charlene (Adams), a barmaid who encourages him to go for it. And of course they see her as the villain.
Continue reading: The Fighter Review
By Pete Croatto
When you see the phrase "inspired by a true story," you assume the accompanying movie will have the intimate perspective of someone affected by adversity. Eight Below, Disney's sled dogs in peril picture, is a case of false advertising. You get a true story only told by someone rattling off headlines and first paragraphs: "Dogs Abandoned in Snow," "Owner Sad About Dogs Missing." The only adversity worth following, which the movie doesn't cover, is how Paul Walker kept his dreamy tan in the Arctic cold.
The year for some reason -- the actual events happened in 1957 -- is 1993. Walker plays a guide at the National Science Foundation's base in Antarctica, where he and his eight sled dogs cover the terrain, helping with expeditions. Bruce Greenwood plays a big-shot scientist who comes to the cold continent looking for the remains of an asteroid or something else out of a Michael Bay movie. The men head out on the sled, encounter a heap of trouble, and barely return to headquarters.
Continue reading: Eight Below Review
Television shows spin-off characters all the time - Matt LeBlanc leaves Friends for Joey and Cheers gives way to Frasier. Not so in movies, where producers frequently tease similar spin-offs but rarely make the big-budget steps to actually get these projects off the ground. For every Elektra, for example, there are promised X-Men franchises waiting to be built around Wolverine and Magneto.
Bucking the odds, MGM's Beauty Shop spins off from the successful Barbershop comedies, taking Queen Latifah's sassy stylist Gina Norris from the second installment and setting her up in a potential franchise all her own.
Continue reading: Beauty Shop Review
By Pete Croatto
The poster for Raising Helen features Kate Hudson, in a pose suited for a bearskin rug, sporting shorts shorter than the Hulk's temper and fuzzy boots last seen at the hottest strip joint in Anchorage. It's an attempt at marketing a warm and fuzzy movie for guys 25 to 34, but the poster is really a harbinger for how misguided Garry Marshall's latest effort is.
Raising Helen is all about Hudson, who stars in the title role, when it should focus on other topics -- the ties of family, coping with tragedy, and starting your life from scratch. The movie harps on how Helen's glamorous life is turned upside down when she is bequeathed her sister's three kids. The story should be on how hard it is for the kids, rather than Helen's bemoaning how fat her ass has gotten.
Continue reading: Raising Helen Review